Why I’m Supporting #Milaap4Hope

Children, mostly girls, nearly always poor or on the lowest rungs of society, sometimes as young as 10. Given to temples and dedicated as Devadasis, or “servants of God.” Intended to spend their lives in servitude to the temple and the adults who run it. Good luck if the adults are abusive—physically or sexually, because there are no exits.

Medieval? Wrong? Horrifying? All of the above. Which is why reformers and abolitionists have fought the practice since the mid-19th century, and the Indian government outlawed it nationwide in 1988. But the practice still stubbornly exists—fed by poverty, and sustained by the prostitution that goes hand in hand with the “giving” of women and young girls in an already illegal practice. And, in a largely conservative society, there are no exits or do-overs. Not for the women, who are “tainted goods,” or for their children, who can also remain trapped in poverty.

Come to think of it, that’s not much different from sex workers in any part of the world, including the west – where for every award-winning Diablo Cody, there are many like Melissa Petros, who lost her job as a public school teacher after being outed for having been a sex worker in the past. Only, in India the alternatives are fewer, and the social opprobrium even harsher for Devadasis. A Devadasi in India has far less hope of ever getting into the mainstream, much less a platform to speak out when outed. Which is why I found myself advocating for Devadasis through crowdsourcing platform Milaap’s flagship program, The Hope Project. The project celebrates four years this week, and I invite you to be part of #Milaap4Hope.

Anyone who has ever reached out to sex workers or worked with them will tell you that it isn’t enough to “save” the people in that life. As a matter of fact, they don’t want to be saved, and they already know what it’s like to be an object of pity, so they certainly don’t want a handout. What they do want, and need, are options – a non-judgmental hand up, the ability to stand on their own feet, agency, and respect. They want the ability to make their own choices, particularly if they have had none so far like Devadasis. And they want, most of all, to be treated with respect as grown-ups who can be trusted to make good on a microloan that is highly affordable for many of us, but almost impossible for them to secure. Which is also why I find myself advocating for Devadasis through #Milaap4Hope.

She learned to sew and embroider at 51. A loan from you can help her launch a business.

She learned to sew and embroider at 51. A loan from you can help her launch a business. (image via The Hope Project/Flickr)

Most of all, I find myself advocating for Devadasis because there but for the grace go I, or anyone we know—female or male. There is no “them” or “people like them.” There is just a generation of women, and men, and children, who even their government and larger society around them recognizes and agrees should not be further victimized. There is just us, and the compassion we hope would come our way if we found ourselves with few choices. There is just our ability to give a little, and do a lot.

I gave. Will you?

You can get involved with #Milaap4Hope by:

Finding out more  about the project
Taking art in a global event on Monday, June 16, 2014
Start your own campaign, or
Make a lasting difference through mine.

However you choose to act, THANK YOU!